For about a year I attended a business meeting that met in a room at a senior living facility. I saw so many seniors in wheelchairs, with walkers or canes. “IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT!!!,” I wanted to shout at the age 30, 40, and 50 something people in my meeting. I could see that many of them did not take care of their bodies through any sort of regular physical fitness program. But if they didn’t wake up and start doing something, one day they too would be resorting to a wheelchair, walker or cane to get around. I feel passionately that old age does not have to mean debilitating physical limitation.
Barring a catastrophic accident or serious illness, there is no reason that a person in their 60’s and older cannot live a functional life and maintain independence and freedom. I look to my parents as an excellent life lesson: my dad, age 84, can travel, take out the garbage, bike to his office, drive, lift stuff, work out at his gym, ski, and go out in the sub zero weather of this current Midwestern winter without suffering any consequences. My mom, also age 84, can no longer drive, uses a cane or walker in the house, a wheelchair in the airport (though she no longer feels confident to travel), is housebound, cannot walk to the mailbox, grocery shop, clothes shop or go the theater by herself, could not pick up her baby grandson (!) when he was born, and cannot get up off the floor if she falls.
What’s the difference? My entire life I have seen my dad play squash, run, bike or go to the gym to workout every day. Every. Single. Day. My mom, on the other hand, did nothing more strenuous than take a leisurely walk after dinner, when she felt like it.
Yes, as we get older, things deteriorate, we get stiff, we get arthritis from wear and tear of our joints, maybe we gain a bit (or a ton) of weight. Injuries and scar tissue accumulate. We can deal with the incremental creeping changes until one day we wake up and need a home care assistant to help us get out of bed!
There are three main components to physical fitness – cardiovascular, strength and flexibility. Everyone needs to get a minimum of 150 minutes (preferably more) of cardio exercise per week, two or three sessions of strength training, and two short sessions of stretching per week. Pilates combines strength and flexibility training and is an excellent way for seniors to improve their balance, core strength, muscle mass and joint stability. My older clients experience improvements in balance, reduction of knee pain, greater shoulder mobility and overall improvement in their ability to function effectively in their daily lives.
It’s never too late to begin a strengthening program and if anything, it becomes even more important as we age to lessen the impact of the aging process.